Since mermaids live in the ocean, that’s also where they must get their food from. But what do mermaids eat there?
Mermaids would likely eat different varieties of sea vegetables/algae like kelp, wakame, sea grapes, Irish moss and others (vegetarian). Sea animals like clams, oysters, crustaceans like lobsters, shrimp and crabs as well as small fish could also be part of their diet.
In this post, I’ll have a closer look at the foods that mermaids most likely eat and why a lot of mermaids seem to be vegetarians.
Do mermaids eat fish or not?
Even though many bigger fish and sea mammals eat fish, mermaids might be an exception. Mermaids are believed to be vegetarians/vegans in many myths and even Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid seems to be a veggie.
If you look at mermaids as real sea creatures, it is however likely that they also eat small fish.
Vegetarian mermaids in mythology
This rejection of eating fish or any living sea animals is mostly associated to the belief that mermaids are queens or goddesses of the ocean who are spiritually connected to all aquatic animals.
The first time this idea emerged was actually with the very first mermaid myth in history!
It is the story of the ancient Assyrian fertility goddess Atargatis.
Legend says that when her beloved husband died, she tried to drown herself out of sorrow. But she survived due to some higher powers and was transformed into a beautiful mermaid.
Many myths about Atargatis were connected to the custom of not eating fish, that some ancient Assyrians followed.
That is because she was often said to represent all fish or live in the ocean herself. Because her followers appreciated her power so much, they did not want to hurt any living being from the ocean that she was connected to.
Another mermaid that seems to be vegetarian is the Haitian mermaid Lasiren. She is the queen of the ocean who is also worshipped and given gifts in ceremonies etc.
But when it comes to offering Lasiren food, there is one thing to keep in mind: you cannot give her fish and seafood!
In Haiti, it is believed that she would be angered when you gave her seafood because it would be like you were asking her to eat her own children – the creatures of the ocean.
What did the mermaids eat in The Little Mermaid?
The reason why Ariel and her fellow mermaids are never shown eating fish in the “The Little Mermaid” movies and series might be because they simply don’t do it.
There are several instances in the movie when Ariel and the other fish look horrified when they see how humans catch and eat sea animals.
And in one scene in the series, Ariel basically says that she does not eat fish.
When she met her fish friend Flounder for the first time, Flounder gets scared because he thinks that Ariel is a bigger fish that eats smaller fish like him.
But Ariel replies that she is not a fish, but a mermaid, implying that she does not eat any fish and Flounder has no reason to be scared.
You can watch the scene here:
Then Flounder and Ariel talk about how both of them love seaweed cookies!
So, it seems like the mermaids (and Flounder) eat mainly seaweed and thus are vegetarian as well.
What would real mermaids eat?
If we see mermaids as sea animals, the likelihood that they would eat some smaller fish would be quite high, because many sea animals do eat each other. The bigger fish eat the smaller fish, as Flounder says.
But since real mermaids would be more similar to hominids (apes like humans), we can assume that they might also have ethical beliefs like us.
So, it is possible that even real mermaids would be vegetarian because they can easily live off of seaweed and might not want to kill any animals.
Also, most ape ancestors, that humans (and possibly mermaids) evolved from, are herbivores. So it is not unlikely that mermaids would be herbivores (vegetarians) as well.
It is known, that plant based food is actually one of the most healthy foods for humans as well.
So, maybe there would be pods of mermaids that do eat fish because it is easy to catch and others that stick to different kinds of sea vegetables. We cannot know for sure.
Are mermaids cannibals if they eat fish?
Some people actually think it would be cannibalism if mermaids ate fish. But I think this is not quite right.
Because there are so many different fish species and mermaids would have to eat their same species – other mermaids – to be considered cannibalists, not just any other fish species.
As I said bigger fish eat smaller fish as well. And even on land bigger mammals eat smaller ones (e.g. foxes eat rabbits, besides berries and fruit).
Like that, even humans kill and eat other mammals.
Even though this is not necessarily ethical (since it is not necessary for us to survive and causes pain to these living beings), it is definitely not considered cannibalism.
Seaweed and algae that mermaids would eat
Some might think that seaweed is simply a weed-like grass that grows underwater. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Seaweeds are also called sea vegetables and they are highly nutritious. In fact, many cultures, like the Japanese, that eat a lot of seaweed, are considered some of the most healthy people in the world.
Seaweeds actually contain many minerals that are important for a healthy body. Some algae also have very high protein contents and many are excellent sources of omega-3-fatty acids.
Manatees and dugongs are the best example that big sea animals can exclusively live and thrive on seaweed. Because that is all they eat and they can weigh up to 1,210 lb (550 kg)!
The nutritious density of sea vegetables means that mermaids would likely not have any problems living off of sea vegetables as well. On the contrary, they would be very healthy.
Here are 5 examples of edible seaweeds that mermaids might like:
Such sea vegetables and many more can be found all around the world. So there would be many places with shallower water that mermaids could get their food from.
But it is also possible that mermaids cultivate their own sea vegetables, to make sure that they always have enough to eat.
Mermaids might eat phytoplankton in the open ocean
Because seaweed always needs to grow from the bottom of the sea, it can only be found in more shallow waters. This would mean that mermaids would spend most of their time around the coasts similar to manatees.
But it is also possible that they spend longer amounts of time in the open ocean where they could also eat other kinds of algae, like phytoplankton (plant plankton).
Phytoplankton are basically tiny algae that float around in the ocean and are just as healthy as other seaweed.
Phytoplankton are actually the main food source for most smaller sea animals while also producing over half of the oxygen in our atmosphere (they are plants)!
Because mermaids are smart, they might have also found ways to extract the tiny phytoplankton from the water and make it easily edible.
More recently phytoplankton has even been used as an ingredient for gourmet food dishes. For us, it is however still very hard to get.
Sea animals that mermaids would eat
If mermaids were actually real, they would most likely be mammals and in fact, most other sea mammals, except the manatees and dugongs, do eat fish and other sea animals.
That is because there are so many fish in the ocean and for these sea mammals it is relatively easy to just consume other fish.
Dolphins and most whales, seals, walrusses etc. all are predatory hunters and eat a wide variety of small fishes, squids, and crustaceans (e.g. shrimps).
Baleen whales however filter zooplankton (tiny larva of crabs like krill and others) out of the water and eat them.
But since mermaids do not have the same kind of mouths and teeth that these animals catch their prey with, they would have to use speers and other hunting gear like humans did when they were still hunter-gatherers.
Like this, they could even hunt bigger fish and mammals. But is rather unlikely that mermaids would hunt bigger sea animals because the blood would lure in too many sharks and they could not store the dead animals well.
So, the most likely seafood that mermaids would eat, would be smaller fishes that they could easily gulp down.
Besides fishes, they might also eat clams, oysters, crustaceans like lobsters, shrimp and crabs, squid, octopus and others.
Mermaids would most likely eat these animals raw and not cook them as most humans do.
Cooking underwater is very difficult and there aren’t many places where there are underwater volcanos and hot vents.
Even if they found such a spot, they could easily burn themselves, making it quite dangerous. Since all other sea mammals eat their fish raw and even some humans, like the Japanese, do, this would not be a problem.